By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—Union leaders cheered as the U.S. Supreme Court tied, 4-4, on a key labor case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al, on March 29. The tie upholds lower court rulings for the teachers and for unions’ right to collect agency fees.
Unions appeared headed for a 5-4 loss in the High Court after the Jan. 11 argument of the case. But Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the court’s conservative bloc, all named by Republican presidents, died a month later, and no successor has been confirmed.
The justices’ one-sentence order only said they tied on Friedrichs. It did not say what they would do when a ninth justice is seated.
The Friedrichs case is important to workers nationwide because the anti-union, anti-worker National Right to Work Committee funded the dissenting California teachers who sued.
Those dissenters claimed that even “agency fees” – fees that non-members of bargaining units, called “free riders” – pay to cover required union services like contract bargaining and grievances violated their free speech rights. They sued to overturn the fees.
Had the RTW committee, Rebecca Friedrichs and the other complainers won, every state and local worker would potentially be a free rider, depriving unions of millions of dollars they need to defend all workers. Lower federal courts sided with the teachers association.
The RTW committee’s ultimate aim is to destroy the nation’s unions by defunding them, thus abolishing union opposition to their right wing agenda, a point their lawyer, Michael Car-vin, evaded when the justices questioned him in January. The RTW group had no comment.
“Labor unions victorious as the U.S. Supreme Court's tie vote affirms lower court decision in favor of CTA,” the California Teachers Association headlined its breaking news story on the case. The state of California, defending its own law, had joined with CTA and other unions in opposing the RTW group and its Friedrichs case.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski agreed, but warned the battle isn’t over yet.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision...upholding lower court rulings that educators and other public servants have the right to a strong union in the workplace, is a momentous victory for working people,” Pulaski said.
“The court rightly upheld 40 years of precedent, rejecting the attacks by deep-pocketed corporate special interests that were the driving force behind the Friedrichs case. While this is an important win for workers, we know the fight isn’t over. Unions will continue to the important work of organizing and mobilizing to beat back these attacks while aggressively pursuing real, lasting gains for workers that open up a path to the American dream for everyone.”
“The Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators to work together to shape their profession,” said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-García, whose union includes the California Teachers Association
“In Friedrichs, the court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs,” she added.
“The case was thinly veiled attempt to weaken collective bargaining and silence educators’ voices,” the NEA stated.